Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

"Political Theology" in Late Antiquity: Historiographical Retrospect and Prospect

Lester L. Field.

Inasmuch as religion is collective and historical, it now seems inherently political, but this sense of inherence derives from twentieth-century consensus: Erik Peterson and Ernst Kantorowicz legitimated "political theology," so that it now belongs to the common discourse of historians. All the more noteworthy for popularity outside professional circles, Elaine Pagels provides a current gauge of "the politics of monotheism."

As an analytical category, “political theology” responded to the modern dissociation of "theology" and "politics." Still, even for Peterson and Pagels, ancient politics and religion intruded on one another. Peterson’s work has even seemed "exquisitely theological." Since baptism, a pact that Christians made with God and one another, seemed the prototype of their polity, theological defense of any other polity seemed profanation. In some respects, Pagels emerges as even more of an anti-political theologian. In ways that parallel Max Weber’s popular perception of the earliest Christianity as "depoliticized," her studies so often portray "political language" as an addition to Christian theology that political identity seems initially alien to it.

These differences and similarities suggest a problem--the problem examined here--namely, how historians measure the "political" in early Christian thought.


Lester L. Field  (United States)

  • Political Theology
  • Late Antiquity
  • Historiography
Person as Subject
  • Peterson, Erik Kantorowicz, Ernst H.

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)